Aug. 22, 2006
By Jim Wrobel
Special to GoHolyCross.com
The Holy Cross volleyball team will look to its experience as it enters the 2006 season with all but one player coming back from last year. The Crusaders return nine players from last season (7-19, 3-11 Patriot League), while they welcome a promising group of five newcomers.
With six of the seven players that saw all of the match time coming back, fifth year head Chris Ridolfi sees his team's experience as a major strength. "Last year the roster was so thin that seven kids played every minute of every game and match," said Ridolfi. "So the experience that those players gained was very important and to bring back every one except one is a big thing for us. I also think the fact that we brought in some pretty talented freshmen will give us some depth."
The team is excited to start the season as the Crusaders are looking to build on the momentum that they created at the end of the year when they defeated eventual Patriot League Tournament finalist Army in the last match of the year. "We worked all last year to get the result we achieved in the last match of the season with the win over Army," said Ridolfi. "It took us a full year to mature to the level where we could beat a good team and hold onto the match. If we can start this season at the maturity level as a team that we ended with last year I think we will be in pretty good shape."
Also what adds to the excitement and momentum is that Crusaders had a productive spring season. "We got done what we had to get done," said Ridolfi. "I think we headed into the summer on a good foot and if they come back in shape and are ready to go I think we will start where we left off."
The addition of the five newcomers will add depth to the team but it will also provide a healthy competitive attitude. "I think they can make an impact on the court and at least they will push those six players to keep their spots, which is an impact in itself," said Ridolfi. "But we are also looking at a couple to see time on the court right away."
Holy Cross expects to be a strong defensive team again as it finished fourth in the Patriot League in digs last season with 16.4 digs a game. "We are consistently in the top half of the Patriot League as a defensive team because that is one of our philosophies here," said Ridolfi. "All of our leading defensive players are all returning so there is no reason we won't be strong again." The Crusaders also will have more size at the net which should strengthen the team's blocking.
Yet again the Crusaders will play a tough non-conference schedule to prepare for the Patriot League season. "We have some tough early matches," said Ridolfi. "We play Villanova on the road and the Hartford Tournament will be very competitive." Also a highlight of the early season will be the Crusader Classic on Sept. 7-9, which will include Rhode Island, Buffalo and an early Patriot league match up against Army.
Ridolfi sees the Patriot League as very deep this year with everyone having the ability to get in the four team Patriot League Tournament field. "I think the league is very open this year," said Ridolfi. "One of our goals is to make the Patriot League Tournament so we want to be fighting for it at the end of the season."
The Crusaders will need to fill some of the roles that last year's lone graduating senior Caitlin O'Callaghan filled. She finished the season ranked second on the team with 182 kills and was ranked third with a .133 hitting percentage. But with the arrival of the newcomers and the experience of the returning players the team should be well rounded.
Senior Chrissy Fanning, senior Valerie Mora and junior Christine Strawson will be the team's tri-captains this season as they bring a good mix of leadership. "Chrissy is more of a quiet leader on the court who is always thinking about the well being of the team on and off the court," said Ridolfi. "Valerie has the knowledge of almost every position on the court so she brings that experience to the role of captain, while Christine leads a ton by example. She is a very hard worker and very hard on herself. So we have a good mix of different types of leadership which is good for the team."
Fanning is coming off her first season as the full-time setter that saw her average 9.03 assists per game, which is the third best single-season performance in the history of the program, while she recorded 777 assists which is the fifth best single-season performance at Holy Cross. "Chrissy settled into the setter position well last year especially towards the end of the season," said Ridolfi. "This year we are asking her to take more a leadership role as a captain. She understood last year what we were looking for but now with a year under her belt she is that much further ahead."
Ridolfi is very confident in Fanning's ability to take charge on the court. "Chrissy assumes the most responsibility on the team as far as carrying out the game plan and making sure everyone else follows her," said Ridolfi. "She came from great coaching and is a very intelligent person who has an understanding of the game. Chrissy has good character and a good personality for someone in her position."
Mora will be making a position change as she will move to libero, a position she saw some time at as a sophomore. "Valerie has a ton of versatility and has played almost every position for us during her career," said Ridolfi. "Valerie played libero during her sophomore season and that is where we are going to play this year. With the position change she will have a lot of responsibility and we expect her to lead a lot on the court as a senior captain."
Strawson had an outstanding season last year as she was named the Patriot League Volleyball Scholar Athlete of the Year, while she also earned a spot on the all-Patriot League second team. Her 351 kills and 4.08 kills per game are both the second best single-season total at Holy Cross. Strawson is expected to have another big year as an outside hitter. "Christine is probably the most competitive player I have ever coached," said Ridolfi. "Her pure athletic and volleyball abilities make her such an outstanding player."
Junior middle hitter Meagan Merinder is expected to be a major contributor to the offense this season as she has taken some strides in individual training, so Ridolfi expects that to translate to the team situation. "Meagan is a fabulous athlete and we are expecting her athleticism to lead to a lot of results on the court."
Junior Katie Fitzpatrick was the libero last season and will see time on the court as a defensive specialist this season. "Katie is very tough and plays hard all of the time," said Ridolfi. Sophomore Molly Anderson, who was an outside hitter last year, is looking to be a defensive specialist this season which is the position she was recruited for. "Hopefully Molly will go back to the role she was recruited for which is a defensive specialist," said Ridolfi. "We had to have her be an outside hitter last year but she wasn't recruited for that. She has some versatility now in that she has experience as an outside hitter at the Division I level."
The Crusaders welcome freshmen Elizabeth Auger, Meredith Beatrice, Elizabeth Campbell, Anastasia Quinn and Samantha Surface to the program. Auger comes to Holy Cross from Barnstable, Mass., as she was a member of three state championship teams at Barnstable High School. "Elizabeth brings a winning attitude to our program," said Ridolfi. "She is a very good athlete that also plays club volleyball at a high level. Elizabeth can also play two different positions for us."
Middle hitter Beatrice comes from Lebanon, Maine, and will provide some needed height at the net, while Campbell, an outside hitter from Mineola, N.Y., brings the experience of playing on a very good club.
Quinn joins Holy Cross from Wilmington, Del. "Anastasia loves volleyball and works very hard," said Ridolfi. "She will compete for a spot on the court." Surface, a native of Fresno, Calif., is also expected to vie to contribute right away. "Samantha is the most experienced freshman we have coming in," said Ridolfi. "If we can get her experience on the court that will help us out."
The Crusaders will kick off the season on Sept. 1-2 at the Hartford Invitational, when they will face Sacred Heart, Providence and tournament host Hartford.